Copyright
Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 27 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 27 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


coming up very stormy away to the west ; you can't walk.'

S



274 r/CSULA.

' But I could bo driven/ I said, ' it' ypil could spare Joe Good-
enough for the cluii .'

'Just what, .1 can't do as it happens. I have sent Joe Good-
enough to Hove'

'Well, if it is so, we must even wait,' was my answer. ' 111
news flics apace, so if there is anything amiss, we may be sure it
will reach us before night.'

' Wait and get a character for unfcelingness all round the
country,' replied William. ' I don't want to do that. 1 shall
sec about it. I suppose I must try and go myself.'

He went off to do what 1 was sure from the beginning he
meant to do. J should have preferred going nnself, for if Mrs
Mi rris was ill, I was more likely than William to be a comfort
to her. But whatdie said about walking was very true. I should
certainly be caught in a. storm. The kitchen window looked to
the west, and over St Anne's Hill and the reach of down below
it the clouds were like ink. There was a driving wind, which
perhaps might serve to keep the rain off for a time, but it was
sure to fall heavily before many hours were over. I went out
after William, to beg him to put on his greatcoat, but he would
not listen to me, though he shivered as he stood talking to one of
his men, and said it was bitterly cold. I saw him set off, and
warned him to make haste back ; the sky looked more threaten-
ing than ever, but it tempted me to go to the top of the lane,
that I might see it gathering over the sea. I walked by the side
of William's horse, telling him to be sure and bring back word
if Jessie was uneasy, and if I could be of any use ; and after
watching him across the down till he was out of sight, I stood
still and looked round me. It was a glorious sight from the top
of the hill. The waves were tossing furiously in the bay ; the
white breakers glittering for a moment, as the sun pierced the
i isses of clouds, and then disappearing beneath the heavy
shadows which swept over the sea, covered the cliffs, and rushed
across the land, like demons of darkness.

From infancy it had been a delight to me to watch a storm ;
even thunder and lightning excited far more than frightened me.
The spectacle of the vast Power over which human beings had
no control, raised my thoughts above earth. It was as though I
was no longer the weak, ignorant girl, of no account even in the
eyes of my fellow-creatures, but a being of a higher race, per-
mitted to draw near and watch the wonderful workings of Gods
Wisdom. The feeling had been encouraged by Roger. Often,



URSULA. 275

as >\C stood together in former days upon St Anne's Hill, when
the rough winter winds were rushing past us, I have heard him
murmur to himself the verses in the Psalms which speak of ' the
Lord that commandeth the waters : ' ' the glorious God, that
maketh the thunder.'

The words came back to me now ; and as I looked at the wild
waves breaking upon the line of red shingles, I continued them
aloud : ' It is the Lord that ruleth the sea ; the voice of the
Lord is mighty in operation : the voice of the Lord is a glorious
Voice.'

'Is it you, Ursie Grant?' said some one, tapping me on the
shoulder.

' Miss Milicent ! I beg your pardon ; I didn't see you.

' How should you ? I came from behind. What are you doing
here?'

'Watching the storm,' I said ; 'it will soon come to us.'

1 But not stay, I hope. I go to-morrow, Ursie.'

* Not in such weather, surely ! ' I exclaimed.

' Yes, Ursie ; I must be off anyhow.'

' O Miss Milicent ! are you right ?'

' I don't know ; I must do what I have set my mind to do ;
and what does it signify, Ursie? storm or no storm, one shall
reach the end somehow.'

Her tone was so excited, that I turned to look at her with
anxiety.

' When we do what is put before us, we needn't be afraid, I
suppose,' she continued; 'and if the end cuts us short, it is
God's will, and no matter whether it be by storm or fever.'

' I should be glad, though, to feel that I was doing His work,'
I replied; 'but that is the doubt to me very often, Miss
Milicent.'

She stopped before answering. ' Do you often doubt, Ursie,
she said, ' really doubt ?'

' Very often,' I replied ; ' I think at the time I am right
When I look back, I see I was wrong.'

' That can't be a pleasant discovery,' she replied, thoughtfully.

' No,' I said ; ' but it has come upon me more frequently thar.
usual of late. Death makes us think, Miss Milicent, whether
we will or not.'

' It is the end of the storm,' she said, and a singular look of
awe crossed her face. ' Ursie, if I were never to come back,
what should you say of me ? '



276 URSULA,

An exclamation of pain at the idea escaped me. She stopped
me short. ' No matter for the thought, Ursie ; I am not a bit
nearer to it for uttering it. What should you say of me ?'

'In what way, Miss Milicent?' I asked. 'You have been a
good friend to me always.'

'Pshaw!' she exclaimed, impatiently. ' What is being a
good friend ? I have not beaten you nor turned you out of
doors, — that's all. Would you say, Ursie, that I had gone the
right way through life ?'

' I think you wish to go, Miss Milicent, as I wish it myself.'

'I think you wish to go!' she repeated. 'I don't think you
have gone, that means. Ursie, you are a coward and a humbug
like other people.'

' It is not my place,' I began — but she would not hear me.

' It is \our place to answer my questions, if it is my will to
put them. What does place mean, Ursie? Look!' and, as a
large drop of rain, the beginning of the storm, fell upon her
hand, she thrust it before me ; — ' Cod's wainings touch all alike;
there is but one place before Him.'

I was greatly touched by her earnestness. I longed to speak
to her freely, but the difficulty I felt was insurmountable. As
in so many other cases she had committed herself to a certain
course of action, and now sought for approval. I was not the
person to give her sanction or to condemn her.

She waited patiently ; so patiently, indeed, with her large,
fierce eyes softened by an expression of suspense, that the very
consciousness of her presence took from me the power of think-
ing correctly. I really could not answer her ; I scarcely knev,
indeed, whit she wished or desired me to say.

' Miss Milicent,' I replied at last, 'if you really want help in
these matters, tin re are persons much more fitted than I am to
give it.'

'I don't want help!' she exclaimed; 'I want only truth.
Gcod-bye, Ursie. I shan't get it from you.'

'O Miss Milicent!' I exclaimed, and I took hold of her
dress as she turned from me ; but she would not be detained.
When she hurried away, I saw her put her shawl over her
bonnet to shelter herself from the rain which was beginning
to fall fast, and as I turned to descend the hill, I lost sight of
her completely.



URSULA. 277



CHAPTER XLIII.



OFTEN and often, in looking back upon that conversation, I
have blamed myself for not taking advantage of the op-
portunity afforded me of speaking freely to Miss Milicent upon
the mistakes I felt she was making. And yet, if I could place
myself again in the same position, I doubt whether I could
bring myself to act differently. What is fitting is such a strong
instinct in us all, unless we have been spoiled by education.
Miss Milicent had no right to make me her judge and reprover;
though, if she had waited but a few minutes longer, I think I
might by degrees have felt encouraged to state my opinion
more openly. As it was, I felt that she would throw upon me
the blame of having been too cowardly to advise her. What
had brought her to such a state of mind now I could only guess.
She was coming from Compton ; it was probable that some con-
versation with Mr Richardson had made her angry and yet
touched her conscience. I knew through Mrs Kemp, that from
the beginning he had told her she was forming foolish plans by
herself. Most likely he had been making a last effort to bring her
to reason, and wishing to find some support for her own wilful-
ness, she had turned to me. I was uncomfortable when I reached
home, and thought a good deal about her as I took my solitary
dinner ; but I was too busy afterwards to dwell upon the subject,
except when the wind rose higher, and I remembered what she
had said about the next day, and wondered whether she would
still persist in her determination to go, whatever might be the
state of the weather.

There was one person, however, whom no press of business
could drive from my recollection. We were expecting letters
from Roger, the first that could have arrived since he had heard
of Leah's death. I did not believe they would come that even-
ing. They could not, unless some one brought them out from
Hove, and I knew no one had been sent in ; but the bare pos-
sibility agitated me. As the afternoon closed in, and the wind
went down, and the rain turned first into sleet, and then into a
heavy fall of snow, I drew my chair near the fire, waiting for, and
expecting William's return; and whilst I worked busily with my
fingers, occupied myself with anxious thoughts of Roger in his
distant Canadian home, and, I am afraid, with many other
anxious and repining fancies, sufficient, if I had examined them.



278 URSULA.

to prove to me that my own mind was far too undisciplined to
allow of my attempting to discipline Miss Milicent's.

By half-past five it w.is so d.irk that I lighted a candle, which
made everything beyond its own sphere darker. I wished
William would come, and began to be afraid that he was really
detained by Mrs Morris's illness. When I listened for his
horse's steps, I heard nothing but the low moaning of the wind,
as it drifted the snow-flakes to the earth, and the solemn ground-
swell, betokening the worst weather was at hand. I grew
nervous at last. The candle Bickered as draughts of air made
their way through the closed shutters of the old windows, and
then the shadows on the wall seemed to move, and I fancied the
door was opened, and when I went to close it I caught, as I
imagined, a murmur of strange voices by the front stairs, and
stole along the stone passage to listen, and hear nothing ; and
made my way back again with the feeling that I ought not to be
alone, that I must find some one in the parlour waiting for me
— Leah used to be there.

I was ashamed of such fancies, — I felt they were wrong. I
thought I would read a Psalm to myself and chase them away,
and I turned to that which had been so vividly brought before
me on that very day. I read it aloud to myself,— again I came
to the words, ' it is the Lord that ruleth the sea,' when a sound
struck me — a sound once heard, never to be forgotten— the
faint but heavy booming of a gun, — a signal from a ship in
distress.

It was not unusual. There were many wrecks in the winter
season. The coast had been known as dangerous from the
days when the old monks lighted their beacons on the summit
of St Anne's, and prayed that God would protect His servants
in perils of waters. More than ever, I wished that William was
at home ; he would have sent off his men to the shore instantly,
probably even he might have gone with them, for he was kind-
hearted when roused by any urgent call. I did not like to take
the responsibility of sending the men myself, and yet I could
not endure the idea of sitting stdl and doing nothing, and, in
my restlessness, I went out to the front door to listen again.
Another booming sound reached my ears. I could bear it no
lunger, and as the figure of a man, at that instant, crossed the
yard in the dusk, I ran out to stop him. ' I must speak to you,'
I exclaimed, 'come in ; do you hear the gun?' and I touched
him, thinking to sain his attention. He made no answer. ' Do



URSULA. 279

you hear it?' I repeated. Still there was no reply, but he
followed me into the house. I stopped at the door. There was
a faint light in the passage from the fire in the kitchen. ' Is it
you, Joe Goodenough?' I said. The man laid his hand upon
mine, and as I started back, a voice, half-laughing, half-trem-
bling with agitation, said, ' Not Joe, my little Trot, but Roger ! '

I don't think I screamed. I am quite sure I did rot faint. I
remember that I led Roger into the parlour, and took off his
greatcoat, and put him into the arrr-"k?ir, and sat myself down
beside him, even as if we had been parted only for a few hours,
and never till then asked him the question where he came from,
and what brought him. Once with me, and all seemed natural.
He inquired hastily about William, and seemed very anxious to
know how things were going on, and then he said, 'Mr Pierce
is dead, Trot; I am come home at his last request. That is one
thing. Poor Leah's death is another.'

I knew all that was contained in the last sentence. He had
thought of me. I answered, ' There have been terrible changes.
We feared Mr Pierce might die.'

' Yes, it has been a grievous business. He was not fitted for
the climate or the work. I hope I was a comfort to him. But
you have had a hard time too, my little Trot, my precious little?
woman.' He seized me with his old bear's hug, and I felt tears
drop upon my cheek ; we could neither of us trust ourselves to
say more just then. He had landed only that day, and had had
little to eat. I went out to order something for him, and came
back again to ask him about the ship ; should any one be sent
off? He satisfied my mind. As he came off the down he had
met people going across. There would be sufficient help. The
night was calm, though dark, and he did not think I need be
uneasy.

Oh ! the blessing of resting upon another instead of deciding
for one's self. Women may like power, but I can never believe
that it is in their nature to like the responsibility which goes
with it. I told Martha to get tea quickly, and would have gone
away myself to hurry her, but Roger was just as he used to be,
so patient about his own comfort. He should like a biscuit and
a grlass of wine, he said, and then he would wait till William
came. We would have tea together. ' Home faces are better
than tea,' he remarked, as he grasped my hand, and held it tight
4 O Ursie ! there's nothing like Old England after all.'

We spoke of Leah then. He felt so tenderly about her. I



23o URSULA.

saw he could not reconcile himself to Sandeombe without 1. r .
His loving heart seemed to have no power of retaining disagree-
able impressions of any one living, much less of the dead. To
hear him talk of his old neighbours and acquaintances, even of
the Shaws and Prices, one might have thought that they had
been conferring favours upon him all his life.

People had been very kind to him in Canada, he said, and he
had no doubt that if he chose to go back he should do well,
liut the necessary exposure to the intense cold during this
first winter, and the anxiety about Mr Pierce, had tried him
greatly. The voyage home had done him good, and he was
looking well, but this first experience of exile had not been
quite successful. As he went more into details about his own
affairs, I found that Leah's death had in souil; way affected his
money arrangements with William, and there was a question
about laying out his little capital in Canada, which could not
well be determined until he had had a communication with
William. ' So you see I had more reasons than one for re-
turning, Ursie,' he said; 'and as poor Mr Pierce took care
to provide me with the means, I thought I shouldn't be wrong,
though I felt it was following my own wishes. I had a
longing'

' To see me,' I said, as I looked up at him eagerly. He patted
my check and laughed ; but a grave look came over his face,
and directly afterwards, he went on saying something about
Leah. I knew as well as possible all that passed through His
mind ; it was what passed through mine likewise. We could
not part perhaps for ever without one more meetin %

We waited till seven o'clock, and still William did not come.
I made Roger have his tea then, and in my happiness did not
think of being uneasy about William, only I was impatient that
he should see Roger. But when the clock struck nine, I did
really think it very strange, and I agreed to Roger's proposal,
that he should go up to the top of the hill and call out. The
night was pitch dark, and the snow still falling, and in spite of
William's knowledge of the tracks over the down, it was not at
all impossible that he might lose his way. I could not help being
amused at the contemptuous tone in which Roger spoke of the
weather. 'What was English cold?' he said, as I helped him
on with his greatcoat, but he knew how to wrap himself up un-
commonly well, and went out pleased, I am sure, rather than not
at having to encounter his old enemy.



URSULA. 281

Not above ten minutes afterwards, I heard quite a chorus of
men's voices in the entrance. William was there and Roger, and
there were one or two others besides. But they were merry
enough, and I was satisfied there was nothing amiss. The men
went into the kitchen, William came into the parlour, blinking at
the light, and putting a handkerchief to his eyes, but with his
hand resting upon Roger's shoulder, and asking him more ques-
tions than could by any possibility be answered. ' He was lost,'
said Roger, laughing heartily. ' You would not believe it, Ursie,
but he was.'

'And frightened out of my senses when I was found,' ex-
claimed William. ' What was I to make of it, Ursie, when I
heard a man, who I thought hundreds of miles away, hallooing
close at my side in the dark? I would walk fifty miles, and be
present at a hundred shipwrecks, before I would have such a
fright again. But welcome for all that, my good fellow,' and he
shook Roger's hand till I thought it would have come off.

' Then there has been a shipwreck?' I inquired, anxiously.

' A wreck, but no lives lost. Heaps of oranges for the Halton
people to feast on to-morrow, and plenty of salt water to give
them a pleasant flavour. I should have been back here three
hours ago but for the wreck. It was bitter work down on the
shore ; and the wind seems to have caught my eyes, they smart
terribly.'

' And how did you find Mrs Morris ?' I asked.

' Baddish, very bad, Jessie says. I didn't see her. The dec-
tors think it is a break up.'

'.Poor Jessie !' I exclaimed. ' Did you tell her I would go over
to her any moment ?-'

' She does not want help, so she declares, but I promised her
you should be there to-morrow. She is not a girl to be left to
herself in a difficulty.'

' I could drive you over, Ursie,' said Roger.

'Yes,' I said, carelessly; 'but, William, who are those men in
the kitchen?'

'Crompton fellows, who were down on the shore helping
about the wreck. We were all going wrong together when Roger
hailed us. 'It's his doing, having them in and giving them a
glass of ale. I am not given to such extravagance, Ursie,' and
William laughed the first hearty laugh I had heard since Leah's
death.

I went out to the men myself to sec they had everything com-



i : URSULA .

fortablc. They were making a hearty sup| cr, and it did my

heart g'~>od to sec something like the old Sandcombe hospitality,
whi h I used to hear of in my young day-. They were not gone
till nearly ten o'clock. When 1 went back to the parlour I found
William and Roger sitting over the fire, deep in business already.
er started up as I put a candle before him, and told him it
was time to go to b

'Time ! not yet, Trot ; why the evening is just begun.'

'It is time, though,' I said, 'for folks who must get up with
the cock-crowing.'

1 le lingered a little, thinking. ' Trot, you and I used to thank
God for taking care of us before we went to bed. I have come
through a rough time lately. What do you say, William ; mightn't
we have prayers?'

William was taken so by surprise he could not object, and I
don't believe he wished it. I stepped out of the room, and call d
Martha, and we all knelt down, and Roger said some of the
rs from the evening service, and thanked God for bringing
him safe home. That was the first beginning of family prayer
at Sandcombe.



CHAPTER XLIV.



THE first waking the next morning would have repaid me for
double the pain I had suffered since Roger's absence. It
was so wonderfully happy. My nature was not one to dwell long
on future troubles, so I took the blessings brought by the present
moment, and only felt that Roger was with me, and that for the
time all must go well. And my feeling was shared by every one
in the house. Roger's return was like letting the light of the sun
break in upon our sad household. William expanded, as it were,
under its influence in a manner which was surprising to me;
ecially as he had a good deal to make him uncomfortable in
other ways. I mentioned that the evening of the wreck he came
in shading his face from the light, and putting a handkerchief
to his eyes. All that evening he complained of a shooting pain
in them, and the next day they were very much inflamed. He
had caught cold in them ; for in consequence of being so silly as
not to take a greatcoat with him, he had no defence against the



URSULA. 283

snow, and he had been exposed to it a long time. We forced
him to send for the Compton doctor; but the lotion which was
ordered did no good, and then he said he would see some one in
Hove. Instead, however, of letting the doctor come to him, he
would go into Hove himself on a day when there was a bitter
wind blowing, and of course he returned worse than he went.
These things were very vexatious, but I could talk out my
troubles to Roger, and that was sufficient comfort to me for the'
time. The accounts from Hatton continued very indifferent.
Mrs Morris kept her bed, and Jessie was in constant attendance
upon her. Roger and I saw Jessie for a short time the day he
drove me over, and she was very pleasant in her behaviour to
both of us, — very glad to see Roger, and full of thanks for our
coming ; but her mind was so engrossed by all the cares pressing
upon her, that she did not seem to take in anything else
thoroughly. I thought myself how much prettier and more
winning she was in this subdued mood than in any of her wilful
humours, and I was pleased that Roger should see her to advan-
tage, even though her manner contradicted some of the things I
had lately written to him about her. Jessie told me that day
that Miss Milicent was actually gone. She had learned it from
some one who came over from Dene, and said that Mr Mac-
donald knew it for certain. There was a great deal too much
communication kept up still between Dene and Jessie and the
lieutenant. I did not feel at all easy in my mind as to the end.

After Jessie's information, I resolved to make an effort to go
and see Mrs Weir, even at the risk of facing Mrs Temple, and
perhaps offending her. It was a little pleasure to me also whilst
Roger was away, for he was obliged to go to London for a few
days to see Mr Pierce's relations. Yet I did not feel comfort-
able in thinking what kind of reception I might meet with, and
I was rather nervous as I rang the bell. The page opened the
door, and I asked if I might see Mrs Weir. He did not know
— he would go and see — and he ran off. I stood looking down
the road, and saw Mrs Temple coming up. She was going on
beyond the house, but on perceiving me she drew near. I made
a curtsey, and said I had walked over to inquire after Mrs
Weir.

' Oh ! Mrs Weir is not at all well to-day.'

1 1 was afraid she might not be, ma'am,' I replied. 'Parting
with Miss Milicent must have made her anxious.'

' Mrs Weir is too excellent a person to allow herself to be



284 URSULA.

nnxious upon any subject,' was the answer. ' I will tell her that
you called.'

'I had hoped that I might have seen her, ma'am,' I said.
' Having been accustomed to me so long, I fancied it would not
make her nervous.'

' Mrs Weir sees no one but her friends,' was Mrs Temple's
answer; ' I will tell her that you called to inquire, and no doubt
she will be much obliged to you.'

Just then Mr Temple and some strange gentlemen crime up,
and Mr Temple asked his wife if she was going on fanner. 1
saw she disliked leaving me at the door, and again she repeated,
' I will tell Mrs Weir that you called,' — which was as much as
to say, ' You have come, and now you may go back again,' but
1 kept my stand, waiting for the answer from Mrs Weir herself.

'Are you ready, my dear?' said Mr Temple, in his meek
voice, and he offered her his arm : she really had no excuse then,
and was obliged to depart.

The pa^e came back almost directly afterwards, followed by



Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 27 of 56)